Purity & Freedom

Accountability vs. confession

As we start up this series on Accountability, it is important that we have a clear understanding of what, exactly, we are talking about.  As I said in the last post, a basic definition of accountability is this:

Refusing to fight for freedom all on my own and inviting someone specific to join me in the fight.

Some of you are reading that and thinking, “Not helpful!”  You want specifics.  You want to know what it looks like, and how it works in real life.

It is like reading an instruction manual and thinking, “sounds easy enough!”  Then, you open the box with all the pieces and parts and bolts and screws and think, “What was step 1 again? Wait!?  Where does this piece go? Oh man! Is that backwards?!”

I want you to know I totally understand that, and I am going to do my best to try and break this down into practical, applicable, pieces of information.

Accountability is not confession

I think an important part of defining something is to also clarify what it is not.  Accountability is not confession.  Now, for my Catholic readers, you will note that I used a lower-case “c.”  I did that on purpose, because I am not talking about the actual sacrament of Confession.  I am talking about the general use of the word confession.  I think the same principal applies, but not being Catholic, I cannot say for sure.

Confession means to tell.  If you want the Merriam-Webster definition, here it is (well, part of it):

Confession- n. a written or spoken statement in which you say that you have done something wrong or committed a crime

Confession is just the act of admitting you have done something wrong.  That is it.  While it is part of accountability, it is not the same thing as accountability.

Don’t think, “Oh, well I have this person I tell every time I have fallen.”  Even if it is the same person, that is not accountability.  Accountability looks completely different.

Key Weaknesses in ‘Confession’

Confession is important, so do not get me wrong here.  It is a vital step in the accountability process, but it is not the whole of the process.  Simple confession has its own weaknesses.

1.  It leaves you in control.

Confession is completely dependent on you, the confessor.  If you do not feel like telling anybody you have struggled, then you will not.  Nobody is asking, so you are under no pressure to blow your cover.  But remember, you being in control is what got you into this mess.  Accountability, on the other hand, gives the other person control over which conversations are had when and about what.

2. It is inconsistent

How many of you have said this, “I’ll tell them when the time is right”?  How many of you have actually ever found that mysterious “right time”?  Confession by its nature is a one-and-done thing.  “There, I said it.  I’m over it.”  Or, we think, “Man! I just told her last week.  I’ll wait a week, before I say anything.”

We do this in our spiritual lives too!!  Some days we feel so down and frustrated that we confess our failures to God.  Other days we pray right on by them as if they never happened.  Accountability, offers consistency.

3. It is uncommitted

Protip: If you confess to a different person every time, no one will know how bad your problem is!  

Obviously, I write that tongue-in-cheek.  It is a terrible idea.  How many of us think that though?

You tell your best friend one week, but then next week you tell your pastor.  You have a rotating schedule of ‘confession buddies.’  No commitments on either end.  You can back out, or you can remove them from the roster at any point.  Accountability is committed.

4. It can lead to pride

Some of you are thinking, “How on earth can confessing my sin be prideful?  It’s humiliating!”  Fair enough, but hear me out.  We all have a sin nature- fact.  That sin nature likes to be appeased- fact.  We all have an inborn tendency to worship the god of self, and that god of self likes the sin we are in.

Unchecked sin is strengthened by pride, and pride strengthens unchecked sin.  Simple confession can actually feed that cycle; accountability breaks it.

Have you heard of serial killers who brag about their killings in jail?  That’s still confession.  They are admitting they did a wrong, but they have reached the point that they just do not care.

We can be that calloused.  We can get to the point where we have said it so many times, done it so many times, prayed it so many times, that it doesn’t even matter to us any more.  Like a well-known mob boss after a hit, we think, “Yeah, I did it, but who cares?  What are you going to do about it?”

Accountability is different from confession.  Most importantly, it keeps pride in check- because you don’t have control, because it is consistent and because you are committed to change.

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2 comments

  1. As a Catholic reader everything you said applies to the sacrament but thank you for your attentiveness to the diversity of your readership.
    I try to go to the sacrament every time I fall in this area but it’s not always possible and I can’t always get the same priest. Although it’s helpful to say it aloud and hear that I am forgiven recently I felt I needed more than that. I was afraid I was being overly scrupulous but this post help me see that I am on the right track.

  2. You hit the nail on the head with this. Everything you discussed in this post I have dealt with and didn’t even realize that it is a pride issue. I thought that if I confess my sins, that was enough. But now, I realize that I have to have accountability so that it will push me to not want to look at it anymore. Thank you for posting!!